With leading scorer Ethan Happ struggling, Wisconsin coach Greg Gard benched his star down the stretch and looked for someone else to lead the Badgers past Illinois.
Brad Davison and Khalil Iverson answered the call.
Davison scored 18 points, Iverson added 16 and the No. 22 Badgers held off Illinois 64-58 on Monday night with their leading scorer on the bench for the final four minutes.
“So many nights he’s carried us,” Gard said of Happ. “Tonight we had to have other people carry him.”
Happ, who averages 18 points, scored just six points on 3-of-7 shooting, was 0 for 3 from the foul line and had three turnovers, including one just before he went to the bench. He also has proven a liability from the line in crunch time in past games, shooting less than 45 percent from the line. But Gard said he benched Happ because of his decision making, not his past struggles from the line.
In stepped Davison and Iverson for the Badgers (18-8, 10-5 Big Ten).
Davison’s jumper put the Badgers up 54-52 with 3:21 left, giving them the lead for good. After Iverson blocked Giorgi Bezhanishvili, Davison collected the loose ball to take it in for a layup and a 56-52 lead with 2:45 to go.
From there the teams traded blows until Nate Reuvers’ putback dunk on a missed 3 gave Wisconsin a 62-58 lead. Iverson then stole the ball on the next Illinois possession following a timeout, helping put away the game.
Iverson said Wisconsin coaches told the Badgers which inbounds play they thought Illinois might run and called it correctly.
“I was just trying to anticipate when he was going to throw the ball in,” Iverson said. “I think I’m pretty quick, and I just threw my hand up there.”
Illinois coach Brad Underwood credited his team’s aggressive defensive style for holding Happ in check.
“They’re a lot more than Ethan Happ, and I think we’re the one team that’s a little bit different in Big Ten play,” Underwood said. “We’re going to pick you up and get after you earlier and maybe Ethan doesn’t get those spots.”
Aaron Jordan finished with 12 points for the Illini, while Ayo Dosunmu added 11 and Bezhanishvili 10.